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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Ephesians 3

 

 

Introduction

Verse 1

Ephesians 3:1. For this cause. A strong expression, occurring only here, in chap. Ephesians 3:14 and Titus 1:5. The reference is to what precedes (chap. Ephesians 2:19-22), especially the closing thought.

I Paul. The phrase occurs quite frequently: ‘He mentions his name, not for personal reasons (Ephesians 3:8), but because of his office and the importance of what he is doing’ (Braune).

The prisoner of Christ Jesus. On the construction, see above. (Some authorities read ‘Christ,’ while ‘Jesus Christ’ is not found in any ancient manuscripts.) He was Christ’s prisoner, not the emperor’s; comp. chap. Ephesians 4:1 (‘prisoner in the Lord’). It is more than prisoner for Christ’s sake.

In behalf of you Gentiles. ‘In writing to the Ephesians he could not forget that the suspicion of his having taken an Ephesian named Trophimus into the temple with him created the popular disturbance that led to his capture and his final appeal to Caesar, his journey to Rome, and his imprisonment in the imperial city’ (Eadie). But the phrase suggests more than this: His office, and hence his affliction, was for the benefit of the Gentiles. More than this, his very imprisonment was made useful by him in setting agencies in operation for the extension of the gospel among the Gentiles. This last point is too often ignored in discussing the verse.


Verses 1-13

1. Paul’s Office as Apostle to the Gentiles.

In view of the great privilege detailed in chap. Ephesians 2:19-22, culminating in Ephesians 2:22, the Apostle begins to speak of his prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. But the mention of himself, as ‘the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles,’ leads to a digression so extended, that it forms a section by itself (Ephesians 3:1-13). In Ephesians 3:14 the petition is introduced with the same phrase (‘for this cause ’). found in Ephesians 3:1. This view of the construction, which accords with the involved character of other parts of the Epistle, is least objectionable. It gives a proper meaning to ‘for this cause,’ and best accounts for the sweep of thought in the chapter. Such a digression is not at all unpauline. Other views: (1.) The Syriac version, followed by commentators from Chrysostom to Meyer, supplies ‘am:’ ‘I Paul am the prisoner of Christ Jesus.’ But this is open to grave objections. It makes ‘ for this cause ’ and ‘in behalf of you’ tautological, disconnects the thoughts of Ephesians 3:1-2 ff., and implies an emphasis on ‘the prisoner,’ etc., which is inconsistent with ‘ if indeed ye have heard.’ (2.) Others find the resumption in Ephesians 3:8 (‘unto me’), but this affords no natural connection of thought, and increases the grammatical difficulty. (3.) A few find the resumption in Ephesians 3:13, which gives undue prominence to a secondary thought.

The train of thought is natural: He speaks of himself as the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of them (Ephesians 3:1), defines this office as a gift of grace (Ephesians 3:2), for which he was specially fitted by direct revelation (Ephesians 3:3), as his previous language testified (Ephesians 3:4), the contents of the revealed mystery being the universal scope of the gospel (Ephesians 3:5-6), of which he was by gift of grace made a minister (Ephesians 3:7). He then humbly states the greatness of the design of this ministry (Ephesians 3:8-9), reaching even to the enlightenment of the angelic host (Ephesians 3:10), fulfilling God’s purpose in Christ (Ephesians 3:11), in whom we now have free access to God (Ephesians 3:12). Hence tribulations in this cause should not result in fainting, but are a ground of glorying (Ephesians 3:13).


Verse 2

Ephesians 3:2. If indeed. The same phrase occurs in chap. Ephesians 4:21; it does not imply doubt, but rather assumes something to be true, challenging the reader to verify the assumption in his own case.

Ye have heard; lit, ‘did hear,’ but the proper force is expressed by ‘have heard.’ ‘Not to have recognized Paul, not to have received his teaching, would be equivalent to not having heard him. Hence it is not correct to conclude from these words, that the Epistle was not written to Ephesus’ (Braune).

Of the dispensation of the grace of God. On ‘dispensation,’ comp. chap. Ephesians 1:10. This does not refer to his office, for how could they hear of that, but rather to a divine arrangement, which has reference, is concerned with, the grace of God, in virtue of which grace he had indeed received his office. Some explain: ‘belonging to the grace of God,’ but the passive form of the next verse (which explains this phrase) favors the other view.

Which was given me. This qualifies grace,’ not ‘dispensation,’ and includes all that grace which prepared and qualified him for his office. It must not there-fore be explained, that the administration of Divine grace was committed to him.

To you-ward. More than’ among you,’ or’ with respect to you;’ literally, ‘unto you,’ i.e., this grace was given in order that my activity might produce certain results in you,


Verse 3

Ephesians 3:3. That by (lit., ‘according to’) revelation the mystery was made known to me. The best authorities support the passive form. This verse explains the substance of what they heard, hence of the ‘dispensation,’ etc. The mode by which the mystery was made known to him is put first, for emphasis: ‘by revelation;’ comp. Ephesians 3:5. That evidently it was God who made known to him ‘the mystery.’ This term has two meanings: ‘(1.) Such matters of fact, as are inaccessible to reason, and can only be known through revelation; (2.) Such matters as are patent facts, but the process of which cannot be entirely taken in by the reason’ (Tholuck). In the latter sense the calling of the Gentiles was a mystery, and many commentators restrict the reference here to that matter, finding a wider application in Ephesians 3:4; Ephesians 3:9. But this requires us to accept the parenthetical construction, which cannot be defended. Moreover it seems unlikely that the sense of the term would vary frequently in so brief a passage. It seems better to maintain that the ‘mystery’ is the same throughout; but in view of the universalism of the Epistle and the current of thought in this section, it here appears as complex, precisely as the notions of ‘enmity’ and ‘peace’ in the preceding section: the mystery of redemption, whose centre is the Person of Christ, whose object and purport is Christ, taking that term as including the Body of which He is the Head, which He has redeemed, and in which the Gentiles are ‘fellow-members’ (Ephesians 3:6); the latter thought being the special reference throughout, though never to the exclusion of the wider thought, since Ephesians 3:6, with its compound terms, compels us to think, even in that most special definition of the ‘mystery’, of the one inheritance, the one body, and the one promise presented in the gospel. With this thought as the ruling one, the special reference to the union of Jews and Gentiles comes in naturally and without disturbing the more general one.

As I have written before. The parentheses are unnecessary; the construction flows on, as usual in Paul’s writings. The English perfect is not a literal reading, but brings out the force of the thought expressed in the Greek. What he has written in this Epistle (comp. chaps. Ephesians 1:9-17; Ephesians 2:4-11, etc.) confirms the statement that this mystery had been made known to him.

In few words. ‘In comparison with the wealth of the truth revealed, its fulness, its wide-reaching, deep-moving efficiency, what he writes is to him always little and brief’ (Braune).


Verse 4

Ephesians 3:4. In accordance with which, i.e., what he had written was to be the measure, or standard, by which they could determine his knowledge.

While reading is better than ‘when ye read,’ since it points to an action taking place at the same time with the perceiving.

Ye can perceive. ‘Can’ (E. V., incorrectly: ‘may’) is the emphatic word, and ‘perceive’ is preferable to ‘understand,’ referring to an immediate perception, as if it were a single act.

My understanding. The word is thus rendered in every other instance in the New Testament (See marginal references.)

In the mystery of Christ. Either the mystery about Christ, or the mystery the purport of which is Christ, who is Himself ‘the concrete Divine mystery’ (Meyer); comp. Colossians 1:27. The mystery had been revealed, hence the Apostle had an ‘understanding’ in regard to it, as could be perceived by his readers. He does not refer to his labors among them, since he has in mind what he has written. Some have used this passage as an argument against the genuineness of the Epistle, but without success. Notice that the Apostle expected his language even in regard to this mystery to convey a definite meaning discoverable by the individual Christians to whom he wrote.


Verse 5

Ephesians 3:5. Which. This refers to ‘the mystery of Christ’ (Ephesians 3:4), the parenthesis being unnecessary.

In other generations; not ‘ages,’ or, ‘periods,’ though the phrase has a temporal sense, as in the Old Testament use of the word ‘generations.’

Was not made known. Less definite than ‘revealed.’

To the sons of men. To any of the sons of men. It includes the Old Testament prophets, but not these alone. The contrast with ‘holy’ and ‘in the Spirit,’ suggests that those merely sons of men, not born of the Spirit, could not know this mystery.

As it has been now revealed. The contrast between ‘now’ and ‘in other generations’ is one of degree. It was not then made to the extent that it has now been revealed.

To his holy apostles and prophets; the terms are to be understood as in chap. Ephesians 2:20; the Apostles, and the New Testament prophets, two classes of inspired men (‘in the Spirit’), to whom this mystery had been revealed. The adjective ‘holy’ is applicable to both classes, and need occasion no difficulty. Paul speaks of them as a body, not as individuals, so that there is no self-glorying in the term.

In the Spirit. This is the sphere in which the revelation was made. To the Apostles there was a permanent inspiration to fit them for their peculiar work as laying the foundation of the Christian Church; but in the peculiar condition of the apostolic Church, without a complete New Testament, and the experience of centuries, there was an inspiration for teaching, ‘prophesying’). Those thus gifted were the New Testament prophets. Both classes were for the specific work in that age (comp. chap. Ephesians 2:20); when the revelation was complete, and the emergency was met, both offices, in their distinctive features, ceased to exist. See chap. Ephesians 4:11.


Verse 6

Ephesians 3:6. That the Gentiles are; not ‘should be,’ for ‘a mystery is not a secret design, but a secret fact’ (Alford). The whole verse explains ‘mystery’ (Ephesians 3:4).

Fellow-heirs, i.e., with the Jews, as saints, as belonging to the family of God. This is the most extended idea in the verse, since it implies the same relation to God who has provided the inheritance.

Fellow members and fellow partakers of the promise. This rendering preserves the correspondence of the Greek compound words, which seem to have been coined by the Apostle. The two terms bring out more fully the relation of the ‘fellow heirs’ to each other. They were members of the same body, incorporated in it as believers, they shared the same privileges, summed up in the phrase ‘the promise; comp. chaps. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:12.

In Christ Jesus. This position of the Gentiles, defined by the three preceding terms, is ‘in Christ Jesus;’ He is the objective ground of their heirship, all their privileges are bestowed in Him.

Through the gospel. This is the subjective means by which these privileges are appropriated. This is an essential part. This gospel is the means by which the mystery of Christ is revealed to us. We need illumination, not inspiration; to understand the gospel is our aim, not to be the organ of a new revelation.


Verse 7

Ephesians 3:7. Whereof, of this gospel, I became a minister. The word was applied to a ‘servant,’ and is several times so translated in the E. V. The word usually rendered ‘servant’ (comp. Romans 1:1, etc.) suggests the personal relation to the master; this one the obligation to service. (Our word ‘deacon’ is a corruption of the Greek term, which was the title of this class; comp. Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-12, and also Romans 16:1.)

According to the gift of the grace of God. The ‘gift’ consisted of the ‘grace,’ and this was doubtless the apostolic office. Comp. Ephesians 3:8. His becoming a minister of the gospel was in accordance with this gift of God’s grace.

Which was given to me. The better established reading joins this with ‘grace,’ not with ‘gift.’ The sense is not altered, but tautology is avoided.

According to the working of his power. ‘By’ is incorrect. The clause belongs to ‘which was given to me’ not to ‘became.’ The giving was in accordance with God’s efficiency, not with Paul’s desert. Thus Saul became Paul; the persecuting Pharisee was transformed into the minister to the Gentiles.


Verse 8

Ephesians 3:8. Unto me, who am less than the least. The transition is natural. The fact that a sentence begins here does not compel us to find the resumption of Ephesians 3:1 at this point (see note above). The Greek adjective is a comparative of a superlative, and need not be regarded as a hyperbole. ‘The great Apostle, however, so truly, so earnestly, felt his own weakness and nothingness (2 Corinthians 12:11), that the mention of God’s grace towards him awakens within, by the forcible contrast it suggests, not only the remembrance of his former persecutions of the Church (1 Corinthians 15:9-10), but of his own sinful nature (1 Timothy 1:15), and unworthiness for so high an office’ (Ellicott).

Of all saints. He does not say ‘of Apostles’ nor ‘of men,’ but compares himself with other Christians; he had been a persecutor, and since God’s grace had helped him, there is no one whom it may not help; comp. Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13.

Was this grace given; comp. Ephesians 3:7. Wherein this grace consisted is added: to preach to the Gentiles, etc. The best authorities omit the preposition among’ (lit, ‘in’). The word ‘preach’ here is literally ‘evangelize,’ not ‘proclaim,’ as often.

The unsearchable riches of Christ. ‘The fulness of wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption—all centred and summed up in Him’ (Alford). Because Christ is what He is, the riches are unsearchable, exhaustless; because He, through His redeeming work, becomes ours the riches are ours.


Verse 9

Ephesians 3:9. And to make all men see. Not simply to teach all men, but to enlighten all, which is to be accomplished by means of the gospel. ‘All,’ which is not emphatic, refers to the ‘Gentiles’ (Ephesians 3:8).

What is the dispensation of the mystery. ‘Fellowship’ is poorly supported; ‘dispensation’ is used as in Ephesians 3:2 : the Divine arrangement of the mystery. The mystery is the union of the Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Ephesians 3:6), not however independently of the wider reference (see Ephesians 3:3). The Gentiles, through his preaching, were to be enlightened as to this Divine arrangement. Such enlightenment was needed, for this mystery was one which from the beginning of the world (lit., ‘from the ages’) hath been hid. From the beginning of the periods of time through which the created world (of angels and men) had passed; the phrase occurring in this form only here and in Colossians 1:26. ‘The mystery was decreed “before the ages” (1 Corinthians 2:7; comp. Ephesians 1:4), but it is conceived of as hidden only since the beginning of the ages, because before that there was no one from whom it could be hidden’ (Meyer).

In God who created all things. The great weight of authority is against the addition of ‘through Jesus Christ’ The omission of the phrase is conclusive against the view that the spiritual creation is referred to, as in chap. Ephesians 2:10. ‘All things’ is to be taken in its widest sense. This mention of God’s omnipotence is probably not suggested by the thought of hiding, but serves to indicate that God, as sovereign creator, included in His purpose this ‘mystery’ and the arrangement (‘dispensation’) by means of which it was carried out.


Verse 10

Ephesians 3:10. To the intent that now. This verse sets forth the purpose of the ‘preaching’ and ‘enlightening’ of Ephesians 3:8-9, or of the giving of this grace to Paul; both views being substantially the same. The objection that thus too much is ascribed to Paul’s own preaching is invalid, since in this extension of the gospel to the Gentiles God’s manifold wisdom has been most fully made known on earth. Some find here the purpose of creation, and others of the hiding of the mystery, and others again join this verse with ‘what is the dispensation’ (it is so planned that now, etc.). The last view is not a natural one; both the others make a present manifestation the purpose of a past act. To the first there are additional objections: it suggests a supralapsarian view; it joins this verse to a subordinate thought; it is opposed by Colossians 1:16, where the end of creation is distinctly stated to be the personal Christ ‘Now’ is in contrast with ‘from the ages’ (Ephesians 3:9).

Unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. The same phrase in chap. Ephesians 6:12 refers to evil angels; but here good angels are undoubtedly meant; these would more naturally recognize God’s wisdom, and they desire to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12). Hence a reference to earthly powers and authorities is to be rejected, as also the explanation: ‘in heavenly things.’ By this full designation of the angelic hosts Paul gives prominence to their power and dignity, and thus exalts the church.

Might be made known. This points unmistakably to an increase of knowledge on the part of the angels.

Through the church. ‘This is the theatre of the glory of God, of the Divine works (Bengel); see 1 Corinthians 4:9. It is a communion in beaten and on earth, church militant and triumphant, and as such, an object of interest to the good angels; Matthew 18:10; Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; 1 Corinthians 11:10; Hebrews 1:14. We are not indeed the professors at whose feet the angels must sit as scholars, but it is God who leads them onward in the knowledge of His wisdom; we are but the means of instruction’ (Braune).

The manifold wisdom of God. The wisdom is one, but its manifestations are varied. Through this variety, adapted to the several ages, races, and individuals in the church, the wisdom of God is revealed to the angels. It were well if sinful men learned more of it from the history of the church. One day the very disharmony and entanglement which now perplexes us may reveal to us the manifoldness of the wisdom.


Verse 11

Ephesians 3:11. According to the eternal purpose, lit., ‘the purpose of the ages.’ The purpose belongs to the ages, will be retained during the ages, controlling them. This implies a purpose formed before these ages (comp. Ephesians 3:9), hence ‘eternal’ gives the sense accurately.

Which he wrought in Christ Jesus our Lord. ‘Wrought’ (lit., made) has been applied by many to the forming of the purpose (‘constituted,’ E. V., ‘purposed’). But it seems best to refer it to the execution of it, regarded as an accomplished fact. In favor of this is urged, (1.) that the historical Saviour is here described in full terms; (2.) that the next verse is an explanatory confirmation of the accomplished, not of the purposed, design (Meyer); (3.) that this sense of the verb is more common in the New Testament than that of ‘constituted.’ At the same time ‘wrought’ seems preferable to the more definite ‘fulfilled.’ Comp. my note, Lange, Ephesians, p. 117. This purpose was wrought in Jesus of Nazareth, the personal Messiah, the Lord of His people. His work and Person are not to be sundered here.


Verse 12

Ephesians 3:12. In whom we have. This explains and confirms what precedes. ‘We’ refers to those who are really in Christ, since the privileges which follow are matters of experience.

Our boldness and access. Lit., ‘the boldness and access,’ but some authorities repeat the article, giving this sense: ‘our boldness and our access.’ ‘Boldness’ is frequently used by Paul (see references), and here denotes the believer’s free joyous attitude toward God, the result of assurance of His favor. Some take ‘access’ here (comp. chap. Ephesians 2:18) in its primary sense of ‘introduction;’ but its connection with ‘boldness’ (especially if the article is omitted) favors the other and subjective meaning, our continued access.

In confidence. This phrase is joined by some to ‘access’ alone, which is admissible, unless the article be repeated. It is better to connect it with the verb: this is the subjective condition in which we have our boldness and access. Comp. Romans 8:38-39; a noble example of this confidence as expressed by the Apostle himself.

Through our faith in him; lit.,’ through the faith of Him;’ comp. Romans 3:22; Galatians 3:22, where the form and meaning are similar. This is the subjective means through which we have the privileges just named; ‘confidence’ is the subjective state in which we have them. ‘That faith whose object is Jesus is the means to all who are Christ’s: first, of “boldness,” for their belief in the Divine Mediator gives them courage; secondly, of “access,” for their realization of His glorified humanity warrants and enables them to approach the throne of grace; and, thirdly, these blessings are possessed “in confidence,” for they feel that for Christ’s sake their persons and services will be accepted by the Father’ (Eadie).


Verse 13

Ephesians 3:13. Wherefore. In view of my position as the minister of such a gospel, thus leading back to Ephesians 3:1, the thought of which is resumed in Ephesians 3:14. This is preferable to referring it merely to the subordinate thought in Ephesians 3:12.

I desire you not to faint, or, ‘I pray God that I faint not’ The literal rendering: ‘I ask not to faint,’ will indicate the difficulty in interpreting the verse, namely, the absence of an object after the verb ‘ask,’ and of a subject with the infinitive, ‘to faint.’ One view supplies ‘you ‘as both object and subject; the other supplies ‘God’ as the object and ‘I’ as the subject. The verb ‘ask’ suits either explanation. Both views have able supporters, but the former has been rightly adopted by the majority of commentators. (1.) It seems unlike Paul to insert such a prayer for himself here; he rejoiced in suffering (Colossians 1:24) and gloried in infirmity (2 Corinthians 11:30), and was speaking of high privilege, little likely to imply faint-heartedness in himself. (2.) The next clause presents a motive (Meyer) which is irrelevant, unless this clause applies to them. (3.) ‘My’ does not imply that ‘faint’ refers to him. (4.) It is grammatically simpler to supply one word (‘you’) which need not be repeated, than to supply two, one of them (‘God’) not directly suggested by the context nor necessary to complete the sense of the verb. Galatians 4:14, where the correct reading is ‘your temptation which was in my flesh,’ shows that the sympathy between Paul and his converts was such as to make this view of the clause perfectly natural. The danger of the weakness was greater for them than for him.

At (‘lit,’ ‘in’) my tribulations in behalf of you, suggesting again the thought of Ephesians 3:1. The preposition ‘in’ points to the sphere in which their faint-heartedness might be shown.

Which are your glory. ‘Are’ shows that’ which’ refers to ‘tribulations,’ seeing they are ‘your glory.’ The thought is, not that it would be a disgrace for them to have a founder who fainted in tribulations, and that his not fainting is their glory, but that the reason they should not faint is the character of his tribulations, as the Apostle of the Gentiles. They were for his readers, were tokens of the love of God in sending his ministers to suffer that the gospel might be universal and the Gentiles sharers in its blessings. It was the sympathy of Christ, in whom the Apostle’s ‘boldness and access’ was possessed ‘in confidence,’ that gave to him such sympathy with them. He was concerned for them rather than for himself. It will be seen how well this view accords with the thought resumed in Ephesians 3:14, and the subsequent prayer.


Verse 14

Ephesians 3:14. For this cause. On the resumption and connection, see last section.

I bow my knees. So Philippians 2:10. The full form is rhetorical. The reference is not to the actual bending of the knees, but to his earnest prayer.

Unto the Father. God the Father, so in chaps. Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 1:12, without any added phrase, since the words ‘of our Lord Jesus Christ’ are not found in the oldest and best manuscripts, are rejected expressly by some of the Fathers, and by nearly every modern editor of any critical judgment. The grand thought of the passage is obscured by the insertion.


Verses 14-21

The Apostles Prayer for the Church, and the concluding Doxology.

As stated in the last section, the thought begun in Ephesians 3:1 is here resumed, and the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of the Gentiles utters his prayer for these Gentile readers. The prayer is to the Father (Ephesians 3:14-15); its purport is that they may be strengthened (Ephesians 3:16); its result that Christ may dwell in them (Ephesians 3:17 a); its end that they may know His love (Ephesians 3:17-18), and hence be filled unto the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:19).

A doxology is added, describing God’s omnipotence (Ephesians 3:20), but so worded as to form an appropriate conclusion to the doctrinal part of the Epistle, since the ascription of the glory is ‘in the Church and in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 3:21).


Verse 15

Ephesians 3:15. From whom every family. This is the only grammatical rendering of the phrase, as the great mass of commentators hold. There is a play on words in the original, which Stier attempts to reproduce in this paraphrase: ‘the true Father over all that is named from fathers.’ ‘Family’ is not to be taken as equivalent to ‘paternity,’ but probably in the wider sense of ‘race,’ ‘tribe,’ etc. But the sense ‘the whole family’ should not be imported into the phrase because of assumed doctrinal difficulties. Nor is the notion the semi-heathen one of an ‘All-Father.’ ‘The Apostle seems, regarding God as the Father of us His adopted children in Christ, to go forth into the fact, that He, in this relation to us, is in reality the great original and prototype of the paternal relation, wherever found’ (Al-ford).

In heaven and on earth. The varied groups of angels and families of men. That the former are included seems clear, since they too are sons of God, and are divided into hosts and groups. But it is incorrect to find only two classes here, one in heaven and the other on earth, either angels and men, or the redeemed in heaven and on the earth. Wherever in heaven or on earth beings are grouped from their relation to a father, whether directly or indirectly, the name they bear in each case is really derived from the ‘Father’ to whom Paul prayed.

Named, in this view, is taken in the simple sense of ‘takes its name.’ No other view allows this sense so well, and the play on words seems to demand it. The attempt to limit ‘family’ here to the redeemed is due to a misconception of the passage, and has usually found its main support in the incorrect reading followed in the E. V. (Ephesians 3:14). No doubt the relation of God to His redeemed children is the striking fact which suggested the expression, but the thought here is wider. Any unholy idea of the Fatherhood of God, such as men use to obscure the truth respecting His wrath against sin, is forbidden by every theological conception found in the Apostle’s writings.


Verse 16

Ephesians 3:16. That he would grant you. This is the purport of the petition, which some extend to the close of Ephesians 3:17 (but the latter verse is probably the result; see notes there). The word ‘that’ means ‘in order that,’ but after verbs of praying, etc., in the New Testament, it is used to introduce the purport and purpose of the petition.

According to the riches of his glory. This qualifies ‘grant;’ the giving prayed for was in proportion to the fulness of God’s perfections (‘glory’).

To be strengthened with might, or, ‘power,’ coming from God. The instrumental sense is to be preferred to the adverbial (‘powerfully ‘), and to the explanation: ‘with regard to Sower.’

Through his Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can impart such strength.

In, lit.,’ unto,’ the inner man. Some explain ‘in’ as = with respect to, but this does not exhaust the force of the preposition. The strength prayed for was such that it reached to the inner man: this was its constant aim. ‘The inner man’ (comp. Romans 7:22) is not equivalent to ‘the regenerated man,’ ‘the new man’ (chap. Ephesians 4:24), but more nearly identical with ‘the hidden man of the heart’ (1 Peter 3:4). Its exact antithesis is ‘the outward man’ (2 Corinthians 4:16), not ‘body,’ or ‘flesh.’ It is not exactly equivalent to the ‘spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 5:22), though referring primarily to this, as the sphere of the operations of the Holy Spirit; nor to ‘mind’ (Romans 7:21), the latter referring to the human spirit as ‘the practical reason.’ To this sphere Paul prays that the strengthening power of the Holy Ghost may reach, precisely because in this part of mam’s nature (nobler in its mode of being) the most ignoble slavery has existed; where man was most akin to God the effects of sin have been most terrible. To the view here presented, it has often been objected that it makes ‘spirit,’ ‘mind,’ ‘the inner man,’ unfallen and sinless, or at least opposed to the empire of the ‘flesh,’ But such is not the position of its most judicious advocates, nor is it warranted by the statements of Scripture. Comp. the Excursus, Lange, Romans, pp. 232-236, and the similar one in this volume, Romans 7.


Verse 17

Ephesians 3:17. That Christ may dwell, etc. This may be regarded as parallel with Ephesians 3:16 : ‘to be strengthened,’ etc., since the form is the same (in the infinitive); or, as an added clause of result: ‘so that Christ may dwell,’ etc. Some have even taken it as expressing the design of the prayer. The second is preferable, because of the emphasis which (in the Greek) rests on the verb. The word ‘dwell ‘points to a permanent indwelling of one who takes entire possession. The view that this verse expresses the result of the strengthening is favored by this idea of permanent and entire possession. This indwelling takes place through the in working of the Holy Spirit.

In your hearts; the seat and centre of the moral life, corresponding to ‘inner man’ (Ephesians 3:16), but viewed rather on the side of the affections. Here is Christ’s home; comp. John 14:21-23.

Through faith; lit, ‘the faith,’ equivalent to ‘your faith.’ This phrase, which in the original precedes ‘in your hearts,’ gives the subjective means of this indwelling of Christ; ‘faith’ opens the door to Him, appropriates Him, submits to Him so that we become His. The most beautiful object might be in the apartment of a blind man, and he not be sensible of its presence; or if by any means made aware of its nearness, he could have no delight in its beauty. Christ dwells in us by faith, because it is by faith we perceive His presence, His excellence and His glory, and because it is by faith we appropriate and reciprocate the manifestations of His love’ (Hodge).

That ye. In the original there is an irregularity in the order of words, which has led some to translate thus: ‘in your hearts, having been rooted and grounded in love, that ye may be,’ etc. This takes the clause as a consequence of the indwelling of Christ, in the form of an independent proposition. But the view accepted in the E. V. is, on the whole, preferable (see note in Lange, Ephesians, p. 125).

Being rooted and grounded in love. The figures are taken respectively from a tree and a building; but the former word was frequently used to indicate ‘firmness at the base or foundation’ (Ellicott), without any further suggestion as to vital growth. The participles refer to a permanent state, the result of something in the past; and this fact furnishes a strong argument against joining them with what precedes.

In love. This phrase, placed first for emphasis in the original, points to the Christian grace of love, since the love of God or of Christ would have been more closely defined. To refer it to loving, including both God’s love to us and ours to Him, confounds two things, either of which could be represented as soil and foundation, but scarcely both. To limit it to love of the brethren is unwarranted by anything in the context ‘Love is the fundamental grace’ (Eadie).


Verse 18

Ephesians 3:18. May be fully able, or, ‘may be strong enough,’ suggesting difficulty, and the need of exertion.

To comprehend. Philippians 3:12-13 : ‘apprehend,’ a rendering which is perhaps too weak, since, both here and there, more is meant than an intellectual apprehension, namely, a spiritual perception and inward experience.

With all saints, the whole body of believers is meant, and it is implied, not only that all saints have this common study, but also that they pursue it in common. Evidently Paul’s petition is applicable to all who believe in Christ

What is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. Many authorities read: ‘height and depth; but the early scribes might readily have substituted this reading for the less usual one. The discovery of the Sinaitic manuscript leaves the weight of evidence in favor of the received order. The Apostle here sets forth the ‘greatness’ (chap. Ephesians 1:19) of the object he has in mind, borrowing the terms of mathematical magnitude (sacra illa Pauli mathematica). It is not necessary therefore to find a specific reference in each of the terms, still less to accept any one of the many mystical explanations. Whenever any of these are used, the details must be proven from other passages, the choice being largely a matter of individual fancy. The important question is: To what object does the Apostle refer? The simplest answer is: to Chris’s love (Ephesians 3:19), and the connection found in that verse sustains this view. Other explanations: God’s love, the fulness of God, the Church of Christ, the work of redemption, the mystery, the temple of God, God Himself; all of which are less natural than the view given above. Some have even found here an allusion to the temple of Diana.

The Apostle breaks off, without adding at once the object, to give in what follows a parallel thought which shows what object he has in mind. One specimen of detailed interpretation will suffice. ‘Breadth refers to the nations lying beside each other on the earth, over all of whom the love of Christ will extend itself; length, to the successive ages during which it will reach; depth, to the misery and corruption of sin, into which it will descend; height, to the glory at God’s throne and near His heart, to which it could elevate all’ (Braune).


Verse 19

Ephesians 3:19. And to know. The connective translated ‘and’ is used to append a closely related thought; hence the object to be supplied in the previous clause is the same as that here expressed. ‘Know’ here points to experimental knowledge.

The love of Christ; His love to us, since our love to Him could not be described by the phrase: which exceedeth knowledge. The verb ‘know,’ and the noun ‘knowledge’ correspond, in Greek as in English. For similar paradoxes, see references; comp. also Philippians 4:7. Hence it is unnecessary to explain: ‘that ye may know that the love of Christ is knowledge-surpassing.’ The meaning is: to have an adequate experimental knowledge of Christ’s love which surpasses any abstract Knowledge independent of religious experience and Christian gratitude. Love is the key to love; yet it must be remembered that Christ’s love is in itself infinite, and that even when our love is warmest and purest we have not yet fully measured its extent

That ye may be filled. This is the further and final end of the prayer. There is a verbal correspondence between ‘filled’ and ‘fulness.’

Unto all the fulness of God. ‘Unto’ points to the measure or standard, and does not imply that this standard is reached at once, but that the knowledge of the love of Christ will lead toward this. ‘The fulness of God’ has been variously explained; comp. Ephesians 1:23. (1.) ‘Fulness,’ or, ‘abundance,’ which God imparts, either in gifts of grace, or more generally. (2.) The fulness with which God is filled, the fulness of His spiritual perfections. The latter view takes ‘fulness’ in its strict sense and forms a climax, while the former seems tame. ‘All the fulness of the Godhead abides in Christ; Colossians 2:9. Christ then abiding in your hearts, ye, being raised up to the comprehension of God’s mercy in Him and of his love, will be filled, even as God is full—each in your degree, but all to your utmost capacity, with Divine wisdom, might, and love’ (Alford).


Verse 20

Ephesians 3:20. Now to him. This doxology, like that in Romans 11:33-36, closes the doctrinal part of the Epistle.

That is able to do above all things. The ascription of glory is to God as the Almighty worker, because His power is specially manifest in the great matter which has been the theme of the Epistle: ‘the Church in Christ’ The phrase ‘above all things,’ which is in emphatic position, should be joined with ‘do,’ and not lost in the adverb which follows. It is to be taken in its widest sense: God can do more than all things that can hinder.

Abundantly above what, etc. ‘What’ does not directly refer to ‘all things,’ but introduces a new subject explanatory of the previous one. There is no tautology, but in this manner the Apostle brings his own prayer into contrast with God’s almightiness. ‘Having exhausted all the forms of prayer, he casts himself on the infinitude of God, in full confidence that He can and will do all that omnipotence itself can effect. His powers, not our prayers nor our highest conceptions, is the measure of the Apostle’s anticipations and desires. This idea he weaves into a doxology, which has in it more of heaven than of earth’ (Hodge).

According to the power that is working in us. This power is that of the indwelling Spirit, and it is according to this power that God is able to do His almighty will. This added clause suggests the same idea as ‘earnest’ in chap. Ephesians 1:14. Only an Almighty Father could bestow the continued indwelling of the Spirit, and in this we have the pledge that He will do beyond all our petitions and desires.


Verse 21

Ephesians 3:21. To him be the glory. ‘To Him’ sums up emphatically all that has been said in Ephesians 3:20. ‘Be,’ which is supplied, may mean ‘let it be,’ or ‘may it be,’ since the reference is to the glory which is due to Him, which will be given Him, not His essential glory, although this is the basic of the glory to be ascribed to Him (comp. chap. Ephesians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14 : ‘unto the praise of His glory’).

Is the church and in Christ Jesus. The rendering of the E. V. is altogether inadmissible, whatever be the correct reading. There is considerable variation in the authorities, but the evidence of the Sinaitic manuscript is decisive in favor of the reading given above, from which, moreover, the others could readily be derived. Many authorities omit ‘and,’ a few others read ‘in the Church and Christ Jesus.’ The sphere ‘in’ which the glory is given is defined in a two-fold manner: ‘in the Church,’ since here the glory is ascribed; ‘in Christ Jesus,’ since only in fellowship with Him can it be offered. ‘The Church,’ here as in chap. Ephesians 1:22-23, means the body of Christ, the in-visible Church; but this does not warrant the explanation here: ‘in the Church which is in Christ Jesus.’ The renderings,’ by Christ Jesus,’ ‘with Christ Jesus,’ are unwarranted.

Unto all the generations of the age of the ages. This is the literal rendering of an accumulation of terms, peculiar to this passage, but unmistakably pointing to eternity, though its unending duration is set forth in conceptions borrowed from the successive periods of time. In fact the phrase seeps to be a combination of two others, each of which is used to express endless duration: ‘generation of generations’ (Isaiah 34:17) and the more common ‘ages of ages.’ It may be that the term ‘generations’ was suggested by the thought of a development of the Church through a long series of generations begun on earth, and to be continued through ‘the age of the ages,’ i.e., the eternal reign of the Lord in ‘the world to come.’ But it is improper to divide the two conceptions, since the ‘generations’ belong (in this figurative mode of expression) to the ‘ages’ of eternity. Gnostic ideas can be found here only through arbitrary exegesis and by those who are lacking in sympathy with the great thoughts of the Epistle.

Amen. Comp. Galatians 1:5. As the Epistle has been liturgical in its form, the doctrinal part appropriately closes with this term. In this section also we find the Trinitarian tone, so characteristic of the three chapters. ‘The power within us is that of the Spirit, and glory in Christ is presented to the Father, who answers prayer through the Son and by the Spirit; and, therefore, to the Father, in the Son, and by the Spirit, is offered this glorious minstrelsy: “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”’ (Eadie.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Ephesians 3:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/ephesians-3.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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